|Back to Home||Legalese - January 19, 2012|
The accessibility standard for customer service
By Susan Irwin, Executive Director / Lawyer, Rural Legal Services
It is more than just good practice for organizations and businesses to provide accessible goods and services to persons with disabilities; it is now the law. As of January 1, 2012, all organizations and businesses operating in Ontario who have at least one employee must comply with Ontario’s Accessible Customer Service Standard.
This standard is one of five developed by the government under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 to address historical discrimination against persons with disabilities by identifying, removing and preventing barriers in key areas of daily living. In addition to the Customer Service Standard now in force, future standards will set out the requirements for information & communication, transportation, employment and buildings & structures, including entranceways and parking by January 1, 2025.
Only unincorporated sole practitioners or organizations run entirely by volunteers will be exempt from compliance with Ontario’s Customer Service Standard. However, the sole operator of an organization or business that is incorporated will be required to comply if the operator is named as an employee of the company in the incorporation documents.
So what does compliance entail? Under Ontario’s Accessible Customer Service Standard, all businesses and organizations in the public, private and not-for- profit sectors are required to:
In addition, businesses and organizations with 20 or more employees must document their policies, practices and procedures in writing as well as regularly file compliance reports with the government. Although smaller organizations and businesses are exempted from the documentation and reporting requirements, they must still communicate and explain their policies, practices and procedures on accessibility to their employees and to anyone acting on their behalf with clients, patients or customers. Penalties can be imposed for non-compliance.
If you think all of this is just more bureaucratic red tape, you may need an “attitude” adjustment. According to a Training Resource prepared on the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service by Access ON: “Attitude is perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome because it’s hard to change the way people think or behave. Some people don’t know how to communicate with those who have visible or invisible disabilities - for example, assuming someone with a speech problem has intellectual limitations and speaking to them in a manner that would be used for a child…”
What’s common sense to you may not be to others.
If you would like more information on the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service or the other standards being developed by the Ontario Government you can visit the Access Ontario website: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/index.aspx, or contact Service Ontario. Please also feel free to contact us.
Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.